Can Good-Luck Charms Protect You?
A CRYSTAL carried in a Brazilian man’s pocket. An American athlete’s lucky penny. A Saint Brigid’s cross hanging over a bed in an Irish family’s home. Millions of people use such objects as good-luck charms or amulets.* They believe that possessing these charms can ward off harm and bring them good luck.
Consider Brazil, for example. According to the magazine Veja, many Brazilians carry “pieces of rock and semiprecious stones to which is attributed the power to attract luck and vital energies to the one who owns them.” Fearing to slight the occult powers, others in that land place a religious emblem or text on the wall of their home. Some even use the Bible as a sacred charm; they display it on a table, permanently opened to Psalm 91.
In southern Africa, muti, or traditional medicine, is similarly used, not simply for its healing properties, but as protection against bad luck. Sickness, death, financial reverses, and even failed romances are often thought to result from spells cast by enemies or from a failure to appease dead ancestors. Muti is usually obtained from a rural medicine man, who concocts potions from plants, trees, or animal parts. Interestingly, though, muti is hardly restricted to the rurals; the practice is widespread in South African cities. Businessmen and university graduates are among those relying on muti.
The search for good luck is also common in European lands. The book Studies in Folklife Presented to Emyr Estyn Evans informs us: “There is scarcely a parish or town in Ireland in which horseshoes may not be seen fastened on or above the doors of some dwellings or outbuildings.” Even more commonplace in that land are rush crosses hanging over beds and doors to bring good luck. Observers say that, on the surface, many of the Irish treat such superstitions in a lighthearted manner. Yet, few ignore them completely.
The Search for Protection
What is the appeal of such superstitious beliefs? Apparently they serve to fill the basic need for safety that people have. Really, how many feel safe in their homes, much less walking the streets at night? Add to that the strain of making a living and caring for children. Yes, we live in what the Bible calls “a time of troubles.” (2 Timothy 3:1, The New English Bible) So it is only natural that people have a strong desire for protection.
This may be particularly so in cultures where various forms of spiritism and magic are popular. Fear of the supposed spirits of the dead or of being the victim of an enemy’s curse can make the so-called protection of a charm or an amulet seem indispensable. At any rate, The World Book Encyclopedia notes: “Most people have fears that make them insecure. Superstitions help overcome such fears by providing security. They reassure people that they will get what they want and avoid trouble.”
The Dubious Power of Amulets
Hence, amulets, talismans, and charms of various types and shapes are worn, carried, and displayed by people throughout the world. But is it reasonable to believe that a man-made charm can offer any real protection? Many of the items popularly used as charms are mass-produced commercial products. Does it not defy logic and common sense to believe that something assembled in a factory could have magical powers? And even a potion specially prepared by a rural medicine man is nothing more than a mixture of lowly ingredients—roots, herbs, and the like. Why would such a blend have magical properties? Besides, is there any real evidence that people who utilize amulets live any longer—or are any happier—than those who do not? Do not the ones making such magic charms themselves fall victim to sickness and death?
Far from giving people genuine protection and a feeling of control over their lives, the superstitious use of amulets and charms actually discourages people from intelligently facing up to their problems and encourages them to look to luck as a cure-all. Trusting in the power of amulets can also give the user a false sense of security. A man under the influence of alcohol may claim that his reflexes and abilities are unimpaired, but if he tries to drive, he is likely to bring harm to himself or others. One who places his confidence in the power of an amulet may likewise do himself harm. Laboring under the illusion of being protected, he may be prone to take foolish chances or make unwise decisions.
Belief in the power of amulets poses yet other grave risks that lie hidden from the millions who use them. What are these dangers, and is there any legitimate way to ward off harm? The following article will deal with these questions.
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines “amulet” as “a charm (as an ornament) often inscribed with a magic incantation or symbol to protect the wearer against evil (as disease or witchcraft) or to aid him.”